CHENNAI : Five months after the tragic Kurangani forest fire rocked the country claiming 23 lives, a comprehensive state trekking policy is being formulated by Department of Forests and Environment, which promises to regulate the multi-crore trekking industry. The policy is likely to be notified next week.
Forest secretary Nasimuddin told Express, on the sidelines of an event in the State Forest Research Institute, that only authorised groups registered with the department would be allowed to organise treks, once the policy came into vogue.
“Several hours of deliberations at topmost level were held and looked at what some other States were doing before arriving at the final policy document. It will address most of the lapses observed and Kurangani incident was an eye-opener for all of us,” he said.Currently, the Forest department is studying the Kurangani forest fire inquiry report submitted by the one-man commission headed by Revenue and Disaster Management Principal Secretary Atulya Misra, which reportedly found glaring lapses on the part of trekking organisers and forest officials.
The 125-page report, whose details were not made public, blamed field-level officers for getting caught totally unaware of how many trekkers were there inside the forest, when the fire broke out in Kurangani Hills in Bodi range in Theni district on March 11.Nasimuddin said the Misra report highlighted certain lapses, which in any case were being studied. Asked whether the report recommended any actions against the field-level forest officials, he declined to comment.
“About 23 per cent of the area is forest in Tamil Nadu. People have the fundamental right to enjoy the nature’s beauty. I have trekked extensively to the Himalayas. We can’t deny their right. We can only regulate. Just because someone has committed suicide jumping from 10th floor of a building, we can’t stop people from constructing tall buildings,” he said.To a query, the senior bureaucrat said an action-taken report about the Kurangani tragedy was being prepared and may be tabled in the Assembly.
Forest Minister Dindigul C. Sreenivasan told reporters that the Misra report would be made public shortly. “Various departments are studying it. It’s an exhaustive report and entire report will be made public soon.”
Tamil Nadu has hundreds of designated nature trails, which trekkers use. Also, there is a huge ecotourism potential with the presence of 58 ecotourism sites falling in 28 wildlife/tiger reserve divisions. The new ecotourism policy lays emphasis on regulating tourist influx and safety.
Ecotourism sites with aesthetic value
A management plan shall be developed for every ecotourism site/destination. The ecotourism sites identified and developed will have uniqueness and value in terms of aesthetic, natural, cultural and landscape characteristics which will be recognised and developed into an ecotourism product. The product will cater for different target groups, the policy document says.